This Is Why Costco's Hot Dogs Are So Delicious

We've all been there. What starts as a quick trip to Costco for an enormous package of paper towels somehow turns into a $400 shopping cart overflowing with a ten-pound package of ground beef, three boxes of Cheez-Its, a 2000-count box of drinking straws, an entire set of nonstick ceramic pots and pans, and a 5-pound block of Vermont cheddar. As we step bewildered into the bright sunlight of the fading afternoon, shell-shocked from the unexpected outlay of cash on items that we really didn't need (but can't live without), one more bargain awaits us, ready to soothe our spirits and fill our bellies: The $1.50 hot dog and soda combo at the Costco food court.

Representing one of the best fast food values in history, this quick-service snack is there for us when we are at our emotionally lowest point in the shopping trip: Wondering how we'll pay the rent this month, but confident that at least we'll never have to buy Magic Erasers ever again. This quarter-pound all-beef behemoth isn't just a great value; it's downright delicious. Throw in an unlimited refill bottomless 20-ounce soda and a bit of snappy patter with the cheerful food court concessionaire, and you'll find yourself feeling better in no time. Here are the reasons why the hot dogs at Costco are so, so good.

They're huge

Inspiring feelings of shame and inadequacy in lesser hot dogs everywhere, the first thing you notice about Costco hot dogs is their size. Weighing in at more than a quarter of a pound (or four ounces), this is a hot dog that eats more like a meal. As a point of reference, a standard-issue hot dog from the arguably more famous Oscar Meyer clocks in at just 1.58 ounces, which means you get a much larger hot dog at Costco, for a fraction of the price.

According to My Fitness Pal, this hulking meat tube (with bun) will add 552 calories to your daily intake, and that's before you heap on the complimentary ketchup, mustard, relish, onions, and sauerkraut. But after all of that free-sample grazing inside, you deserve a real meal; after all, you're never going to get through the rest of your day with just a teaspoon of cookie butter, a single Totino's Pizza Roll, and a plastic shot glass full of fizzy mango lemonade rattling around in your gullet.

They're super inexpensive

As you might expect, Costco isn't making a ton of money on their $1.50 hot dog and soda combo. In fact, the company loses money on every combo sold, to the tune of more than 100 million hot dog meals each year. And according to the company, that's just fine.

When Costco president W. Craig Jelenik once famously griped about keeping such a popular loss-leader on their menu to Costco co-founder and Jim Sinegal, Sinegal was crystal clear in his now-legendary response: "If you raise [the price of] the effing hot dog, I will kill you," Sinegal said. "Figure it out."

Why this commitment to a product that costs the company money with every sale? The answer is twofold. First, losing a few cents on a hot dog combo that may draw shoppers into a store that sells $1,000 big-screen TVs makes a ton of financial sense, over the long haul. Just one sale of a big-ticket item instantly wipes out the losses on hundreds or even thousands of hot dogs. But there's another reason to keep the discount hot dog train rolling: A busy food court creates a buzzing family-friendly atmosphere, and that cheap meal for the whole family helps shoppers justify the yearly cost of membership. 

They're made in-house

Up until 2008, the hot dogs being served at the Costco food court were standard-issue Hebrew National all-beef, kosher hot dogs. Around that time though, the supply of those kosher hot dogs began to dwindle, and costs began to rise. That's when Costco decided to step up its hot dog game even further, and start throwing some of their annual operating budget at moving their hot dog manufacturing operations in-house. 

 According to the company's explanation in their own magazine, the Kirkland brand hot dogs you'll get at a Costco food court today are "10 percent heavier and longer than the old," and they're a better quality hot dog.

In order to keep up with demand, Costco constructed a dedicated hot dog manufacturing facility in Los Angeles, and when that wasn't enough, later added a second facility in Chicago. That oughta be enough to keep the sausages coming for a long, long time.

They're 100 percent beef

Ask any of your woke vegan friends about their lifestyle choices, and they'll probably start lecturing you on the hidden evils of hot dogs. Actually, who are we kidding? No matter the topic of conversation, vegans will inevitably steer the discussion toward how eating meat of questionable origin makes you at least partly responsible for the majority of society's ills.

Their argument isn't totally without merit: Lots of hot dogs are made with some sketchy ingredients, which probably wouldn't even legally qualify as food in some more evolved societies. Bargain-basement hot dogs are unholy chemical mashups of spare chicken trimmings, discarded scrapheap organs including ground-up livers, kidneys, and hearts, and apparently at least 2 percent of the time, traces of human DNA. That ringing sound you hear is every single one of your mental alarm bells sounding at the exact same time.

Not so, at Costco. The big box giant's signature Kirkland hot dogs are made of 100 percent beef, with no questionable "variety meats" included, people-based or otherwise.

They're not loaded with unhealthy additives

Questionable meat isn't the only problem plaguing competing value-brand hot dogs; many of them are loaded with additional chemical additives and stabilizers, which may be why you can eat them after they've sat opened in the fridge for months, as long as you rinse the fur off first. (Note to readers: Please don't do this.)

Left in the wrong hands, the ingredients in the humble hot dog can start to sound a lot more like a chemistry experiment gone awry, than an actual food product intended for humans. 

Unlike the cut-rate hot dogs sold at many venues however, Costco controls the entire manufacturing process, ensuring that their hot dogs contain no by-products, corn syrup, phosphates, fillers, or artificial colors or flavors. There's not a lot to be confident in, in this crazy, mixed-up world, but the ingredients in the hot dogs at the Costco food court aren't a bad place to start.

They're steamed

Truly great hot dogs transcend their ingredients, becoming more than the sum of their parts. Oh sure, you can eat a cased meat tube wrapped in some insipid slice of white bread any time you'd like. You can even paint that pup with a shockingly bright yellow stripe of French's mustard, if you're feeling fancy. But the best hot dogs become a whole experience; a soft, warm, pillowy package of escaping steam and cured meat flavor, the cool crunch of toppings lending textural and temperature balance to the warm kiss of meat snuggled within.

When a Costco food vendor hands one of those piping hot packages over the counter, you know that you're going to have just that experience. Costco steams both their hot dogs AND their buns, resulting in a perfect package of hot dog eating bliss. Okay, so maybe they get a little soggy sometimes, if you leave them to sweat too long while you're mucking around with your topping decisions. But that's all just part of the charm.

They're even more interesting in foreign Costcos

If you think 100 percent beef hot dogs with no fillers, weird additives or by-products for just a buck is already the best deal in snacking you've ever heard of, try hopping on a plane and exploring some Costcos overseas, because that's where tweaks to the formula start making things even more interesting (and delicious).

In Costco locations in Japan, for example, the company swaps out the all-beef versions of its hot dogs for pork-based dogs, with an array of unusual regional toppings and a matcha green tea soft serve to wash it all down. Costco locations in Mexico typically offer the standard-issue ketchup and mustard for their dogs, but keep your eye out for some other interesting options, including the giant stainless steel top-loading, hand-cranked pickled jalapeno cannon that will fire unlimited portions of spicy peppers on top of your piping hot snack as fast as you can turn the crank.

They're available with lots of (free!) toppings

Ask any armchair expert about the wisest way to stretch a dime into a dollar, when it comes to food budget and maximizing your caloric intake at the lowest possible price, and most will give you the same answer: You've gotta work your free topping game to its maximum possible potential.

While many Costcos turn the straightforward application of ketchup, yellow mustard, and sweet pickle relish into an all-you-can-squirt self-service situation, don't be fooled into thinking those are your only topping options. Many Costcos also keep a semi-secret stash of diced raw onions alongside a briney vat of sauerkraut behind the counter, and all you have to do is ask the helpful counter clerk to hook you up. Boom: Just one more human interaction, and you've magically transformed your basic dog into a three-course extravaganza of additional texture, flavor, and zero-cost calories. Best of all, these add-ons are completely free for the asking.

They're smoky, juicy, and flavorful

You don't have to take our word for it that Costco food court hot dogs are delicious. We're not alone in this estimation; Costco hot dogs are almost universally beloved, lauded from one end of the internet to the other for not just their rock-bottom price, but for their overall texture, flavor, and general tastiness. The folks at Business Insider sum it up best:

"The dog is unexpectedly flavorful. Gone is the bland, hollow taste of the average hot dog; instead, a delightful smoky taste pervades, similar to a kielbasa sausage but not as fatty or rich. There's a slight charred taste to it that isn't overpowering. It's juicy, and there's a satisfying snap with every bite."

Tributes and odes have been written about Costco's hot dog, and though they all use different wording, the meaning is the same: Despite the unbelievably low price, this hot dog is, no doubt, one of the best ones out there.